SCORM, standards in e-learning, and the groceries truck

Guest Blogger PostAs I keep walking this path in order to become an Instructional Designer, there are a number of things that I carry with me. Probably, the one that I keep closer and review every now and then is “the media debate”: does a medium influence learning or is it just a mere vehicle for instruction delivery?  The reason why I bring this up is because I have been considering the connection between SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) and learning. Has SCORM anything to do with learning?

If one had to define what SCORM is and does without getting into very technical details, it could be said that SCORM is a combination of a number of related technical standards, guidelines, and specifications that tries to establish a common approach to developing e-learning products (Loidl & Paramythis, 2003; ADL website).  SCORM provides a way to deliver e-learning content and systems in different platforms, environments, and learning management systems (LMSs) (Buendía & Hervás, 2006). It’s recyclable, including, within every course, a description of the elements used so they can be searched later for new course. By doing this, the goal is to make content accessible, interoperable, durable, and reusable (Newman, 2002).

In order to benefit from all this alleged advantages, courses need to be SCORM conformant or compliant. This seems to be a point in which some developers and practitioners start to question the applicability of SCORM across the full spectrum of areas in education, instruction, and training. As Phillip Hutchison says in his blog, “full-blown SCORM is impractical and unreliable.” He supports this statement by pointing out that, although SCORM theorists have provided e-learning developers with a set of guidelines to integrate shareable content objects (SCOs), shareable content by itself is problematic to implement on a wide range of courses unless those courses are developed for the same company, institution, need.  Others point out that SCORM’s seems to focus on massively cataloguing SCOs into repositories but does not do a good job in helping tutors/instructors to adapt content to specific learners (Bohl et al, 2002).

On this same line, there have been voices that have harshly criticized ADL’s initial claim about SCORM being pedagogically neutral and relevant at the same time (Friesen, 2003).  This seems not possible since relevance focuses more on the connection of learner to content and, in order to reach neutrality, standards and specifications need to focus on the connection of delivery system to content .  For these and other reasons, some, like Aaron Silver does in his blog, are already pointing towards a future in which SCORM, though useful and efficient for what it is meant to do, will not eliminate the need for using other tools in combination.

Has SCORM anything to do with learning, then? Well, I believe that, actually, it does.  Using Clark’s well known analogy of the truck that delivers our groceries and its influence in nutrition, a question arises when considering the SCORM initiative: What if the delivery truck only brings items from only one food group? Wouldn’t this influence nutrition? In this same way, since SCORM imposes a series of technical specifications and standards to e-learning course development, isn’t this technology influencing the way instruction works and, ultimately, enforcing a very specific culture of e-learning?

What do you all think?


Clark, R.E. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-459.

Bohl, O., Schellhase, J., Sengler, R., and Winand, U. (2002). The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) – A critical review. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE02), Auckland, New Zealand, 950 – 951. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from:

Buendia, F. and Hervas, A. (2006, July). An evaluation framework for e-learning platforms based on educational standard specifications, In Proceedings of the Sixth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, p.184-186. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from:

Friesen, N. (2003). Three objections to learning objects. In Mc Greal, R. (ed.), Online education using learning objects. London: Taylor & Francis Books Ltd. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from

Loidl, R. and Paramythis, A. (2003). Distance education – a battlefield for standards. In Szücs, A. Wagner, E., and Tsolakidis, C., (Eds.) The quality dialogue. Integrating quality cultures in flexible, distance and elearning; Proceedings of the 2003 EDEN Annual conference, Rhodes, Greece.

Newman, T. (2002, December 6). SCORM in a teacup. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from Training Foundation Web site at

Guest blogger: Federico Gomez works as an associate professor for Christian Brothers University in Memphis, where he teaches Spanish language and literature courses. He has a background in Psychology and Methodology for the Behavioral Sciences, and he is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. His research interests include web-based instruction, non-profit training, open-source technology for education, and constructivist approaches to instruction. He would like to work in non-profit related instruction and community building through instructional design in the future.

Image from dgroth at